Thursday, December 11, 2008

Everyone expected me to win...

“Everyone on my team expected me to win.” Wow.

I loved this Quickfire challenge. Blind taste tests that force a chef to strictly use what they hope is a finely tuned palate always shows their mettle. What I don’t understand is why some of the chefs let the others get away with naming between three and five ingredients? It’s a sauce, so aren’t oil, salt, and pepper almost automatic? In any event, it was really fun to watch. The only Quickfire I like more is when they do the relay races. But again, my boy Hosea holds it down giving Stefan the stink and showing him that Americans know a little something about cooking too.

The Elimination challenge calls for the chefs to cook for Gail Simmons’ bridal shower…of 40 guests, a large number of which are colleagues of hers from Food and Wine Magazine. So finger sandwiches and instant coffee just isn’t going to get it done. And of course there has to be a theme and a twist. So to correspond with being a bride, the chefs draw knives to make teams of three with the themes “old”, “new”, “borrowed”, and “blue” to incorporate into their dishes as well as define the order of service.

Team “Old” consisting of Jeff, Stefan, and Hosea are the first to serve. They decide that a trio of tastings made from heirloom tomatoes is the way to go. In an effort to assert himself, Stefan really started to try to tell everyone what was what this week. He didn’t like Jeff’s idea of a tomato sorbet. He didn’t like another team’s concept for their meal. He made no effort to mask his contempt. He’s trying to get some action from Jamie? Hey, here’s to your efforts big guy but that’s going to be like trying ice skate uphill. Ultimately, though the guys did well and Jeff’s sorbet was well received.

Team “New” was just a comedy of errors. I think Eugene had a good idea working with a make-your-own sushi roll. But maybe not the best idea to make a bunch of well-dressed ladies make and eat their own food with no explanation as to how it was supposed to come together. Oh by the way, his rice was way overdone, apparently. Why he didn’t just make more, I don’t know? Danny seemed to be more in the way then anything else. And Carla just went to her place of Zen, I guess, and let it all happen even when Danny put mushrooms in her salad without her knowledge.

Team “Borrowed” drew on inspiration from various cuisines, particularly Indian. But I gotta say, when someone on your team is, in fact, Indian, you’re not really borrowing it so much anymore I don’t think. Their carrot puree was perfect, and the lamb was apparently perfect too.

Team “Blue” decided to do a meal inspired by the deep blue sea. According to Tom, there is no food in the world that is truly blue. But when you say “blue food” who doesn’t think of blueberries? And going last opened the door for a blueberry dessert. Seemed like a no brainer.

Teams “Old” and “Borrowed” ended up with the favorites across the board with “Borrowed” winning the day. But when picking the person who was the most instrumental in the win, you hear Jamie say something about wanting the win. Well, she didn’t get it, prompting her to say in the confessional “Everyone expected me to win”. I guess she thought that because it was her concept combined with her carrot puree, she deserved to win. Apparently, the judges saw it differently, and they should have. Ariane cooked the lamb, which was the focal point of the dish. Hell, I could’ve come up with the concept. Does that make me the winner? By the way, yet again, in spite of saying that she doesn’t want to be earmarked as just making Indian food, Radhika yet again makes Indian food.

Team “New” was called on the carpet for basically screwing up all over the place. Any of them could’ve gotten the boot, and Tom wanted to do just that. What seemed to save Eugene and Carla was that when their mistakes we pointed out, they owned them. Danny, by contrast, was utterly convinced that their food was great, and it didn’t matter what anyone said. Bye bye big guy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Don't Want To Be a TV Chef...

“I don’t want to be a TV chef” said the reality TV contestants. Last night, the chefs had to make a meal that could be condensed into a 2-minute demo that could be shown on TV. And according to most of them, they never had any aspirations of being on TV. Except, I suppose, for the purposes of being on Top Chef? Per the biographies of chefs that I have read, the cheffing community seems to have diametrically opposing views of the “celebrity chef”. They are either anit-celeb chef and it’s a travesty as well as an embarrassment to the profession, or they’re just kinda casually okay about it. In any event, chances are that you will be evaluated by a number of celebrity chefs in this competition, so perhaps it would be in the best interests of the contestants to keep their feelings about TV exposure to a minimum?

But a word about the Quickfire; Amuse Bouche is a bite. Last I checked, it’s like 1/4th of an appetizer. So what looks like a deconstruction of three components on the plate, no matter how good it tastes probably isn’t going to win the challenge. And for the love, I’m pretty sure that no matter how much Rocco Dispirito loves bacon, you’re not going to need a pound for two servings. Leah just grasped the whole thing, start to finish and delivered a one-bite, breakfast-oriented, challenge-winning dish, which makes two Quickfire wins in a row for her, and prompting my wife to choose Leah as her pick to win it all.

On to the elimination challenge…

The chefs had to prepare a demonstration that would fit well in two-minute slot on a TV show. It just seems like common sense to make something that fits several criteria; can someone make it at home? Will the ingredients be readily available in your average grocery store? Can the viewer pronounce whatever it is you’re trying to make? Can you knock it all out and have a finished product ready in the time allotted with enough information provided in the segment that people will feel comfortable making it? If the answer to any of these is no, you need to rethink your process. If I, as a viewer, need industrial grade equipment, can’t find the components, am too intimidated by the name, or don’t see a pro finish that dish, I’m probably not as likely to try.

For the second straight week, Ariane had a strong showing, winning the challenge. She was in good company too, seeing as Jeff has had a few strong finishes, and Fabio has a win. Furthermore, the announcement of her win was determined live on the Today Show by all the hosts. Her dish was simple, and she took a little heat from some of the other competitors about it. But she maximized flavor and presentation in two minutes. However, for each winner, there must be a looser, and Alex, Melissa, and Jamie found themselves in the bottom three for two reasons between three people.

Jamie and Alex ended up with the same problem; they just didn’t finish the dish in the allotted time. Jamie ended up serving a fried egg that still had some raw white around the yolk. The argument was made that people would consume undercooked yolk and have health concerns. Didn’t they see Rocky eat raw eggs by the half-dozen? And Alex, while I appreciate his bravado trying to make a dessert, should’ve known better. Crème Brule in an hour of prep time just won’t happen. And sure enough, it didn’t set up in time. Melissa made a dish so spicy that, per the blogs of the chefs on the show, couldn’t be eaten. I like spicy more than most. But having eaten a habanero raw and whole, you just can’t have people serving them in a meal who don’t know what they’re dealing with. Suppose someone serves something with habanero to someone with an ulcer? You may not kill them, but they’ll wish to God they were dead. In my mind, that should’ve been enough to excuse her from the show. But Alex’s runny Brule got the boot.

Two notes in closing; first, I was very glad to see Rocco on this episode. Last year he was only a guest judge for the season premiere, and I would’ve like to see him on there once or twice more. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we see him this year. Second, there are all kinds of etiquette to being a guest on a TV show. If you read Tom’s blog about filling guest spots, he talks about it in detail. And they’re all good points. But there are some lines of decorum to be observed by the hosts as well. So for Kathie Lee to actually spit out Jeff’s dish was inappropriate on any level. Grow up.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving in July-ish

How odd do you think that it must have been to be preparing a Thanksgiving meal for a Thanksgiving episode in what…July? Anyway, I know I’m late getting something posted about the show, but with the aforementioned holiday, my mind was elsewhere.

With the chefs breaking into two teams, the assignment was to make dinner for the Foo Fighters and their entourage of roadies that was consistent with a Thanksgiving theme, and fit criteria of likes and dislikes set forth by the band. Oh by the way, they had to cook outside with toaster ovens, microwaves, and one lone burner. I have to give credit to many of the chefs on both teams for quickly assessing the situation and not taking an hour to piss and moan about how lousy the circumstances were. So with a number of ideas in mind, teams “Sexy Pants” and “Cougar” were off to the races.

In a losing effort, Ariane started to take steps in the right direction. She had a strong showing in the preparation of her turkey in a toaster oven. I like to think that I know a thing or two about cooking, but I wouldn’t have had a clue where to begin? And though she found herself on the losing team, the judges were quick to tell her that she was safe from elimination for the week. Good thing too…I don’t think she could have taken the stress of being in the bottom two for the third week in a row.

Jeff found himself on the block with a weak dessert bringing him before the judges. Pumpkin foam and raspberries just don’t sound good together. But Jeff seems to have a mystique and charisma about him that compel people to follow him and trust him, even when they are in competition with him. So with that, he assumed the role of the head chef and did more traffic directing, as a head chef does, than cooking. His leadership, not his food saved him this week.

Richard made a mistake mentally that cost him his station in the kitchen. When reading what the band really liked, he got stuck on bananas. For some reason, he thought it best to pair that idea with S’mores. He just got locked into those two components, and couldn’t let them go.

Originally, I wasn’t a big fan of Fabio. But with the passing of each week, he impresses me more and more. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, holding understandably little significance to a lot of immigrants. But he took the idea of a pumpkin-based dessert and made something he knew in tiramisu. And he did it with toaster ovens and microwaves. Original, creative, and resourceful…exactly the traits that help people go far in this contest or even win it all.